We all bring certain expectations along when we go out to eat. We expect the food to be well prepared, the service to be prompt and attentive, the wine to be overpriced. Proprietor of the Grouchy Chef Mr. Masumoto flips the script. He has a few expectations of his own, and woe betide the diner who fails to live up to these exacting standards. On a recent trip to test out this storied restaurant, we may have made a few mistakes. Allow us to help you avoid the embarrassment should you choose to brave the Grouchy Chef in the future. And trust us, you should. A meal here is an experience to remember.
Rule 1: Reservations Required. We decided to try the Grouchy Chef on a whim and dropped in as the doors opened for the evening. It has the look of a speakeasy, tucked away in a dark business park with a simple sign and a paper covered door flanked by dim porch lights. We did not make it past those doors. No reservation, no seating. Fortunately, reservations were available, so we were able to go back to the car and call the restaurant to claim a spot. Then we just had to sit in the car for fifteen minutes wondering what we were in for and whether we were worthy.
Rule 2: No Jeans. I’m sorry, make that NO JEANS. There’s a large sign on the front door and an even larger one on the first page of the menu. This would have been nice to know beforehand, since most of us in the PNW consider dark denim to be formal wear. I was wearing a brightly colored dress, thankfully, so my date simply hid behind me until he could safely find a seat. At the Grouchy Chef, I recommend you dress to impress.
Rule 3: Respect the Crystal. Every patron was warned, as they took their seats, that the crystal was “not cheap imitation stuff.” You are not to clink glasses. You are not to leave lipstick marks. You are not to scrape your food around on your china plate like some kind of animal. If you choose the incorrect fork for your salad, you will be politely corrected. Whether or not you disappear under the table in shame, at that point, is a personal call.
There are many, many other rules and strong suggestions listed in the multi-page manifesto that fronts your menu. Do not try to take a picture of it. He will see you, and he will call you out. All of this is quite serious, I should note. There is no humor, only intense purpose behind Chef Masumoto’s “grouchy” demeanor. He is a man who expects more from his customers, and from society at large, than he has seen. In response, he has created a small haven where he can take control over the casual chaos of a world that has forgotten its manners. My dining partner was transported back to his cotillion days, when lessons in fork order were serious business. I found myself sitting up a little straighter, and trying desperately to stop crossing my legs (another rule).
So why, you might ask, would anyone subject themselves to the wary judgment of Chef Masumoto? The simplest answer is the meal itself. For around $25 (paid cash upfront) you can enjoy a curated, four-course meal from salad to dessert that is prepared and presented with skill and formidable care. Chef Masumoto is your host, your server, your chef, and your busser. There are only two choices to make, your protein and your starch. Well, three choices if you consider adding a bottle of wine. The chef handles everything else. For that reason, substitutions are forbidden. This is not a place for vegetarians or those with interesting food requirements. He has neither the bandwidth nor the patience to accommodate any changes to the menu he’s prepared, as he serves his half-dozen tables unassisted.
Another, perhaps surprising, draw is simply the opportunity to rise to the occasion. They say money can’t buy class, and what better opportunity to prove it? For an astonishingly good price, you can enjoy an artful meal of remarkable quality. All Chef Masumoto asks is that you show his establishment, and his life’s work, the respect of exhibiting impeccable manners while you are there. If that’s too much to ask, he humbly recommends you eat elsewhere.
The Grouchy Chef, 4433 Russell Rd Ste 113 Mukilteo, WA 98275